Remember Myspace Tom? Chances are, even if you weren’t a user of the first big social networking platform, you knew his face. After all, Tom Anderson’s Myspace profile picture is probably one of the most widely viewed photos on the web. In 2012 he even made the bold claim that it’s been seen more times than the Mona Lisa, which might be stretching the truth a little. But while he was once omnipresent online, these days Anderson’s life is a whole lot different.
Anderson was born on November 8, 1970, in the city of Escondido, San Diego. His interest in computers came early – indeed, at just 14 years old, he attracted the attention of the FBI after he managed to hack into Chase Manhattan Bank’s security. At the time, Anderson’s online activity was done under the name “Lord Flathead.”
Eventually, he went on to study at the University of California, Berkeley, where he majored in English and Rhetoric. But the diversity of his interests didn’t end there – following his graduation, he joined a band as their lead singer, before moving to Taiwan.
And his studies soon brought him back home, where he completed a masters degree in critical film studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. By now, Anderson was 30 years old – and only three years away from launching the website that would secure his fame and fortune.
In 2000 Anderson was working at a digital storage company when he first met Chris DeWolfe, his future business partner. Indeed, after that company folded a year later, Anderson and DeWolfe launched their first venture together, a direct marketing business.
By 2002 the pair had successfully sold their business to a larger company. And it was with the employees of that company, eUniverse, that they began putting together the bare bones of what would become Myspace, in 2003.
Anderson and DeWolfe launched Myspace as a direct competitor to Friendster, another early social platform. However, whereas Friendster only allowed its users to go by their real names, Myspace was far more lenient – usernames, custom handles and anonymity were the order of the day.
Myspace’s popularity quickly took off, and Tom’s face soon became ubiquitous on the platform. That’s because, as one of the founders, he was the first “friend” of every user on the site. And his profile picture – the one he still uses to this day – is now instantly recognizable.
By 2005 the site had reached ten million users. And not long after, News Corp bought out Myspace, and its then-parent company Intermix Media – which had replaced eUniverse – for a whopping $580 million. Just a year later, the user base had ramped up to an incredible 106 million.
In fact, in 2006 Myspace actually had more hits than Google, with over 200,000 people joining the site daily. But while Anderson had been installed as president of the company, things weren’t all plain sailing after the buy-out.
Indeed, a year later, Anderson told Fortune, “Before [the acquisition], I could do whatever I wanted. Now it takes more time to get people to agree on things. All the budget reviews and processes. That can be a pain. But it’s not stopping us.”
News Corp, meanwhile, responded in kind – with an anonymous executive telling Reuters in 2011, “Tom [Anderson] was responsible for the product but ended up being a complete bottleneck on getting things done.”
It was little surprise, then, that Anderson’s position as president didn’t last. In 2009 News Corp moved to replace him, and by 2010 he’d also been replaced as the social network’s “default friend.” Instead, new users would find their first friend to be a profile by the name of “Today On Myspace,” or “T.O.M.”
By then, however, Myspace’s popularity had waned, with Facebook emerging as the dominant social platform. Having been replaced as president, Anderson decided to leave the company to pursue other paths.
In 2012 he was working in an advisory capacity for a Facebook gambling app called RocketFrog, but by then he’d already found his true passion: photography. It was a visit to Burning Man in 2011 that stoked Anderson’s interest in the art.
In a 2014 interview with ABC, Anderson said he owed his photography skills to pal Trey Ratcliff. He also admitted that, while he’d been a friend to millions of folk on Myspace, nowadays he likes the company of nature. “On the rare occasion I get people in my landscapes and scenes, it’s mostly never planned. I’m a little shy about it,” he said.
These days Anderson is enjoying his retirement – and presumably the millions he’s made from Myspace – traveling the world, documenting his adventures on his Instagram feed. And his pictures are truly amazing.
Whether he’s bounding through snowy caves in Iceland or soaring over Oahu in a helicopter, Anderson definitely seems to be living the life right now. He’s clearly stuck with the photography hobby, too, posting regular updates and pictures on social media.
Indeed, Anderson highlighted the diversity of his own interests, telling ABC, “If you knew me before Myspace, you’d probably thought I’d have been a scholar teaching philosophy in a university my whole life. If you met me before college, you’d probably have thought I’d be a musician for my entire life. I like change.”
While Myspace itself has been relegated to the nostalgic corridors of our minds, it’s hard to forget Tom Anderson. After all, he was once everyone’s friend. And now, he’s sharing a unique look at the world with his nearly half a million followers through his Instagram profile.